Review suggests increase to small bar capacity
Less than a week after the release of the long awaited Callinan review, the NSW state government has published the findings of its enquiries into small bar liquor licensing and the ID scanner system operating at high risk venues in Sydney’s Kings Cross.
The government will consider both reviews as part of its response to the Callinan review, which gathered more than 1,800 submissions and involved close to 30 stakeholder sessions, including three roundtables.
With some qualifications, Callinan found that the terms of the Amendments had secured the objectives they set out to achieve and remained appropriate. Justice Ian Callinan did, however, suggest staged relaxation of some aspects of the Amendments, such as extending take-away liquor sale hours and implementing different timings for lockouts and last drinks.
Complementing the Callinan review is the recently released findings of enquiries into both the ID scanning system at high-risk Kings Cross venues, and the small bar licencing scheme.
Venues operating under the small bar liquor licence – introduced in 2013 as a means of diversifying Sydney’s nightlife – can host up to 60 patrons and sell alcohol from midday until 2am, except in freeze precincts, where they can trade until midnight.
There are currently 49 small bar licences in NSW, and the review found that small bars have added to the state’s nightlife. Venues with a small bar licence have a lower incidence of alcohol related violence than venues operating as a small bar under another type of licence, and in fact small bars have a lower level of alcohol related violence than any other type of licensed venue.
The review found that adjustments to the small bar licence are required in order to drive its uptake, noting that while the model is emerging as a feature of the NSW night-time economy, the proportion of venues trading under the licence remains low.
It also found that red tape and administrative complexities are a significant barrier to entry, with the majority of licenced venues marketing themselves as small bars operating under a different type of licence, such as a general or on-premise licence. In order to open a small bar, aspiring venue operators need to receive development approval (DA) from the local council, and a liquor licence from the ILGA. OneGov data shows that the average processing time for a small bar licence is 170 days. The City of Sydney council reports that 35 business days are needed for a DA, which is required before a liquor licence application can be lodged. Other councils estimate approval times of between two and three months.
Of general bar licensees deciding not to convert to a small bar licence, 50 percent said it was because of the costs and time involved in gaining regulatory approval.
The fact that small bars have a 60 patron capacity limit, together with the fact that they’re not allowed to host minors – even when accompanied by a responsible adult – were also listed as key barriers to entry.
In order to increase the number of venues operating under a small bar licence, the review recommended that:
- The patron limit be raised to 100. The review argues this will improve the commercial viability of the small bar model without increasing the risk of alcohol related violence. It found no evidence to suggest that raising the limit to 100 would significantly increase violence in these venues. Crime data from the City of Sydney LGA shows rates of alcohol related violence remain low for venues with a patron limit under 120. The proposed increase will not override existing patron limits that have been imposed on small bars through the DA process.
- General bar and on-premise licences be able to convert to a small bar licence free of charge for a 12 month period following the introduction of the increased patron limit, subject to development consent requirements.
- Further consideration be made into whether minors should be permitted into small bars, if the patron limit is increased. The review sees potential benefit in allowing minors on the premises while in the company of an adult, as it could remove a barrier to the commercial viability of the licensed venue model.
- There’s a need to examine ways for quicker and simpler assessment of lower risk liquor license applications, including small bar applications.
- There’s a need to cut red tape and administrative complexity.
- There’s a need to promote the benefits of small bar liquor licences and engage with stakeholders to better inform existing and potential venue operators.
In June 2014, 35 high risk venues in Kings Cross were required to introduce ID scanners as a means of keeping ‘known troublemakers’ from entering fellow high risk venues.
High risk venues are defined as those that sell alcohol on the premises, have approval to trade after midnight and have a patron capacity of more than 120.
Since the system’s introduction, scanners have stopped banned patrons from entering venues 73 times, and there have been no reports of scanner failures.
Overall, the scanners are considered to be an appropriate and effective means of reducing alcohol related crime and violence in Kings Cross. The NSW Police noted that alcohol-related violence and crimes of opportunity have fallen significantly in Kings Cross since ID scanners were introduced. BOCSAR data shows on-premises alcohol-related non-domestic assaults (from 9pm to 1.30am) in Kings Cross high risk venues fell by 50 percent when comparing the period before scanners were introduced (July 2012 – June 2014) to the period following their introduction (July 2014 – June 2016). While these comparative reductions are impressive, the review said they should be considered in light of other measures that were implemented in the Kings Cross precinct around the same time.
Despite the positive effect they’re believe to have had on alcohol related violence, liquor industry bodies and some licensed venues consider the cost of operating the ID scanners to be excessive, and some suggested arrangements be considered to ameliorate these costs. The cost of operating the scanners needs to be considered in light of the reduction in patronage for Kings Cross venues since the commencement of the ID scanner requirement, the review said.
It was also suggested that the effectiveness of the scanners would be enhanced in venues in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross precincts could exchange venue initiated and Statutory Ban patron data.
The Kings Cross Liquor Accord and the NSW Police feel the scanners should be mandatory for high risk venues in the Sydney CBD, however this wasn’t supported by the NSW/ACT Alcohol Policy alliance, which argued further evaluation of the regulatory outcomes is needed.
- The ID scanning system be maintained in high risk venues in Kings Cross
- ID scanners be configured to allow sharing of data on patrons banned by venues rather than police (if privacy controls can be retained).
- Considerations to extend the use of the scanners beyond Kings Cross are premature, given the potential implications for the Kings Cross and Sydney CBD precincts arising from the Callinan review.
- The ID scanner online portal used by the police should be configured so officers can perform searches for particular patrons across multiple licensed venues.